THE HYPOCRITICAL REBEL

When Jose Ma. Sison organized the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1969, a great number of people all over the world still believed that Communism was the wave of the future. The USSR was a superpower. The Warsaw Pact nations threatened Western Europe. Castro held Cuba. Communists were on the march in Vietnam and the dominos were seen to be soon tumbling all over Southeast Asia. The Cold War was going the Communist way.

Today (this was written in 2000), things are different. The Communists have lost the Cold War. USSR is gone; what is left is trying hard to transform into a market economy. The Berlin Wall has crumbled. Communist East Germany has been merged with Democratic West Germany at great expense to the latter. The Warsaw Pact nations have shed their Communist rags. NATO faces no foe of consequence. China has been trying for 13 years to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO). Cubans continue to flee to Florida. The Vietnamese desperately need foreign investment because every last one of the 10,000 corporations they set up after they won the war went bankrupt six months later from incompetence and corruption. North Koreans feed on grass.

In the Philippines, the Communist rebellion has sunk into a hypocritical extortionate racket that, vulture-like, feeds on the poorest of the poor in the farthest barrios. And the biggest hypocrite of them all is Jose Ma. Sison.

The Communist collapse has shorn Sison of his ideological underpinnings. You no longer hear him spout the Communist mumbo-jumbo about the proletariat and the bourgeois. But, as he did last week, he continues to cry his hypocritical heart out for the poor in the countryside. Whenever he does this, I puke. The people in the barrios remain poor because of the 10 percent “revolutionary tax” that Sison’s New People’s Army (NPA) extorts at the point of an M-16 automatic rifle. Purportedly set up to protect and fight for the poor in the countryside, the NPA now is the barrio folk’s heaviest burden, financially and emotionally. The NPA taxes everything: rice and corn, copra and wood products, coffee and cacao, abaca and root crops, sari-sari store sales and public school teachers’ salaries, and, if the priest or pastor will allow it, even church collections. Barangay captains are given a monthly quota. On top of it all, there is the constant terror hovering over the poor barrio folk.

If not much investment goes to the barrios, we have the NPA to thank for it. A foreign company wanted to look into the feasibility of reviving an old gold and copper mine about three years ago. As if on cue, the NPA showed up with their demands: P1,500,000 for a “permit to operate” plus 10 percent of payroll. The foreigners turned down the demands, packed up, and have not been back.

In the guise of protecting the environment, the NPA hates big-time operations in the countryside such as banana plantations and large-scale mines. But the real reason is that they do not pay tribute. They would rather spend their hard-earned money on setting up their own security force.

The NPA prefers the barrio to remain poor and, as a result, vulnerable to the revolutionary tax. And where does the money go? It certainly does not stay in the barrio; there is little there to spend it on. Obviously, the money ends up in Manila and the other big cities to finance the propaganda war. Who covers the expenses to mount a public demonstration? Who pays for those red flags and streamers, effigies and placards? Who buys all the red paint splattered over the city? Who foots the bill for the press conference and media coverage? How can the loudmouth leaders live without any visible means of support?

I go along with the Army intelligence that says money also winds up in Sison’s secret dollar account abroad. He screamed his protest so loudly over TV that if I had opened my bedroom window, I would have heard him all the way from Holland. Confucius says, he who protests to high heaven must be guilty as hell.

Another Sison hypocrisy: poverty is the root of the rebellion. There are countries poorer than the Philippines, Bangladesh for one, that do not suffer from a Communist rebellion. The real root of the rebellion is a small band of pigheaded one-time idealists who refuse to admit that Communism is a total flop as a system of raising the quality of life of the masses.

Still another Sison hypocrisy: Communism failed because the Communists everywhere did not do it right. But Sison will do it right. He, and he alone, has the magic formula to make Communism work. He does not say why he keeps the formula to himself.

Sison awaits the call to return to his homeland as a Messiah, come to save the Filipino people. That is the highest hypocrisy of all.

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CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A VERY RURAL VOTER

(With Presidential elections less than a year away, some well-meaning non-governmental organizations, are gearing up to educate the poor rural voters. Here is a piece I wrote in 08 May 1998.)

We city folks tend to look down, and then turn our noses up, on the rural voters.
We are the educated, they are not. We do not sell our votes, they do. And just how can they make their choices in logical, cold-blooded fashion as we intelligent voters do? How can the barrio folk ever hope to grasp the complex issues of the day? We are matalino, they are tanga. Perhaps, we should be the only ones given the right to vote.

As a friend of mine would call it: pure, unadulterated fertilizer.

Let me tell you about a close encounter I had with a very rural voter. Enzo had come to have dinner with me about a month before an election during the Aquino presidency. It was Lent and my late brother Bio and I were staging in our farm, on the foothills of Mount Isarog in Naga City, our annual pabasa or passion, two weekends before Easter.

The pabasa is the singing of the Passion of Christ set in verse. The current Bicolano version was written and approved by the Church way back in 1887. The singing, more like chanting really, was led by a small group of women from the barrio. The non-stop pabasa started at three Saturday afternoon and ended at about seven the following Sunday morning.

Bio took care of breakfast.  Dinner and drinks (mostly gin, of course) were on me. Our pabasa was always well-attended, less out of piety of the barrio folk but more because of the excellent food and beverages we served.

At dinner time, Atoy, our overseer, introduced Enzo to me. Although Bio and I have been staging the annual pabasa for about ten years, this was the first time I met Enzo. He was wiry and tall, about five feet and eight inches, with an unmistakable Castilian strain on his face. He spoke in a soft voice and I had to strain to understand him.

Enzo was a kaingero, a slash-and-burn farmer, the poorest of our rural poor. His kaingin (badang in Bicolano) was farther up the mountain. Beyond his farm was dense, virgin forest. He was planting camote (sweet potatoes) over no more than a half hectare of land at the very edge of the world. No voter could have been more rural than Enzo.

First, we talked business. I asked him how he set the price for his camote. He said that he would leave his harvest with a friend in the public market in Naga City, and then canvass the prices of the things he wanted to buy, such as a pair of rubber sandals for his wife and some clothes for their two kids. If the price had gone up since the previous harvest, he would adjust his price accordingly. I wondered how the Asian Institute of Management would think of Enzo’s business methods.

Then, we talked politics, and our conversation (in Bicolano) went something like this.

I asked, “Are you a registered voter?”

He said, “Yes.”

“Are you going to vote in next month’s elections?”

“Yes.”

“But, why? You live so far away from everybody, you don’t even hear the church bells summon you to Mass or vespers. Why bother?”

I expected him to say that Captain Atoy, his barangay chairman, had asked him to go. Or worse, that it would be a good chance for him to make some money from those dirty politicians.

Instead, without any emotion in his voice, he said, “If I do not vote, then I will be like the wild animals that roam around my kaingin.”

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ON MONOPOLIES AND CARTELS

So, President Ramos has fired the first shot in a war against monopolies and cartels. And the Senate and the House, as always, have written two versions of an anti-trust bill.

Okay, guys, I am prepared to assume that you mean well. But let us straighten out a few things before monopolies and cartels start getting bandied around like such word-pairs as graft and corruption, peace and order and suka’t bawang.

Just what is wrong with monopolies and cartels? Simple: they eliminate free and open competition; as a result, they keep consumer prices high. Apologists have, for decades, said that the aim is to avoid ruinous, cutthroat competition. Current thinking counters that this does not justify the existence of monopolies and cartels. Besides, if a business cannot stand competition, it should go to another line of business. Matira ang matibay.

Now, for some definitions. A monopoly is “an exclusive privilege of engaging in a particular business or providing a service, granted by a ruler or by the State.”  Meralco has a monopoly on the sale of electricity in the franchise area granted to it by the State. Danding Cojuangco’s Bugsuk Island project was a monopoly, being the sole supplier of hybrid coconut seeds, as decreed by the dictator.

A cartel is an “association of business firms for establishing a national monopoly by price-fixing, ownership of controlling stock, etc., thereby eliminating free competition.” Cartel is the terms used in Europe; the U.S. uses the word trust, hence the other word, anti-trust. The most descriptive term for cartel is: combination in restraint of trade.

The oil companies here are a cartel, inflicted on the consumers by their own government through the Energy Regulatory Board. Before ERB, oil firms competed fiercely with each other. Now that the government dictates prices, competition has been wiped out.  Hence, the high price of oil products.

Fixed minimum prices are not the only tools of a cartel. A cartel of contractors bidding for a government project may rig the bidding by agreeing who should submit the winning bid. A cartel of manufacturers may divide the market by agreeing who will manufacture what and sell where. For instance, manufacturers of electric motors may agree on who will make 50-hp models and who will make the larger types. Or, they may agree who should sell in Mindanao or Visayas.

All these arrangements are designed to avoid competition, thereby keeping prices high.

Notice that a monopoly looms huge, dominating the landscape. A cartel usually operates in some dark back alley, in secrecy, beyond sight.

Then, there is a small matter of a two-sentence constitutional provision. Instead of being tucked away in some obscure section of our penal code, the rule on monopolies and cartels is now enshrined in the basic law of the land.

The Constitution, according to a lawyer friend of mine, says that monopolies are prohibited or should be regulated as public interest requires.

If public interest so requires, a monopoly may be allowed. But it should be regulated tightly. Meralco is a good example. It is in the public interest that there should only be one electric franchise holder in Metro Manila. Imagine the chaos that will result if several electric light companies are allowed to string up their lines all over the same area. But since Meralco is a monopoly, government regulates it closely.

On the other hand, cartels (the Constitution uses the term “combinations of restraint of trade”) are not allowed, period. There are no exemptions.

In short, my lawyer friend said, from the standpoint of public interest, a monopoly may be good or bad, but a cartel is always bad.

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